Why your dreaded air travel might become a new adventure in wellness
While plenty of people still want to allay their travel anxieties with Bloody Marys and burgers while waiting for a delayed flight to take off, that’s likely to just make you feel worse.
But there is one bright spot in the world of air travel: Airports may finally be getting healthier.
Better-for-you foods, from poké bowls to tossed organic salads, are beginning to become mainstream at many US airports, and yoga and meditation rooms are cropping up. There’s even a company betting big on airport gyms. (Yes, you could be getting your sweat on instead of holing up at your terminal’s Hudson News.)
Could it be that you may even come to—gulp—enjoy your endless airport layovers?
Read on for intel on flying the fitness-friendly skies—and whether these healthy makeovers are an actual upgrade.
Goodbye food courts, hello healthy food options
A slice of ‘za from Sbarros no longer counts as the closest thing you’ll get to veggies while waiting for your flight. “Airports are trying to cater to people who want to be healthier,” says Brian Sumers, airline trends reporter for the travel industry site Skift. “We see this mostly with food choices. You see a lot fewer fast food restaurants in airports now, and many more healthier options—you’ll find a lot more fresh farmers’ market salads and fewer iceberg wedges with blue cheese dressing.” (He cites San Francisco and Atlanta as two airports with good sushi.)
Sumers points out that the dining landscape is ultimately a result of consumer demand—so you’ll never see McDonald’s completely disappear from airports. “The trend can only go so far,” he says. “People get nervous in airports. They get anxious and stressed. And when that happens, some people—even folks who ordinarily like to be healthy—like to eat comfort food.”
It’s the same trend that Sumers sees up in the air: Airline execs tell him that in surveys, “passengers demand healthier options on board, like salads and healthy juices. But when they actually pull out their credit card on the plane, they go for a Budweiser and potato chips more often than you might think.”
Bathroom to your left, yoga room to your right
You can expect to see a lot more carry-on yoga mats in the future, too. Kelly Grumbach—general manager, North America, for Quintessentially Travel and a member of the travel consortium Virtuoso—sees a clear shift in airports offering wellness spaces, noting the dedicated yoga rooms in San Francisco, at O’Hare in Chicago, and at Heathrow in London.
But Sumers’ optimism is tempered, as he notes that the facilities are also outside of the security perimeter. He praises San Francisco for having two yoga rooms inside security, though: “That’s probably not a bad idea. It’s convenient and easy, and you don’t have to re-clear security to use San Francisco’s yoga studios. You probably don’t need to shower afterward, either.”
Sweat post-security check at full-fledged gyms
For the truly committed, there are opportunities to do more than downward dog during a layover—but not all are popular with travelers.
A spokesperson for American Airlines confirms there’s a gym in the Admirals Club at Dallas/Fort Worth, but says, “I’m told that not many use the equipment.” Then again, that gym is 20 years old and has three pieces of cardio equipment—that’s hardly enticing to even the most die-hard fitness fans.
Sumers believes there’s ultimately not that much demand. “Yes, people like to work out and remain healthy,” he argues. “But is a two- or three-hour layover really the place to do it?” (Especially if you have to leave security, which is often the case.)
Roam Fitness, however, is betting that the demand is there…if the amenities are top-notch. The startup is opening its first airport gym at Baltimore-Washington International, and has plans to add locations at five other US airports (and, eventually, would like to open locations across the country and abroad).
The fully staffed, 1,175-square-foot gym (located past security) features modern equipment like free weights, a TRX system, stability balls, a pull-up bar, and cardio machines. Best of all, the entry fees cover clothing and shoe rentals for travelers who haven’t packed gear or don’t want to deal with luggage or dirty gym clothes in the airport. Plus, showers can be reserved in advance, and a “fuel” area will offer healthy snacks from Aloha, RXBar, and more. (Day passes are $40 for first-time visitor, and monthly and yearly plans will be offered too.)
“There’s no good way to care for our bodies, burn off energy, and stretch our legs when flying. Wasting time at the airport and suffering through cramped flights leaves travelers feeling unproductive and unhealthy,” says Cynthia Sandall, Roam’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, who devoted the majority of her MBA program (along with co-founder Ty Manegold) to researching market opportunity and demand for airport fitness. “Traveling is ‘me time’ and for so many of us, ‘me time’ means exercising…We believe travel days don’t have to compromise our health.”
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